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Antonio Conte praises Chelsea's work on the ball, laments work off the ball

One of the more impressive things about Chelsea's preseason match against Liverpool earlier this week was the team's willingness to work both with the ball and without it.

When Chelsea were in possession, the emphasis was on width, tempo, and quick ball movement.  The execution wasn't great and thus chances were at a premium, but there were signs of the team starting to adapt to the new coach's methods even against non-Austrian opposition.  It was even better without the ball, where Conte's system calls for a compact, solid core that closes down, pressures, and presses the opposition, containing them in non-dangerous areas and forcing them into mistakes.  Chelsea weren't perfect in this regard either, but as Liverpool wasted the chances they did get, the Blues walked away with the clean sheet.

On Saturday, the situation was reversed, though I'd argue that in the first half, Chelsea were rather bad both with and without the ball.

"I know it's not easy to play this game against another great club after only two days of rest, and after a flight of four hours and a half.  I know this because I knew the team was a bit tired."

"But today, I think that this match is very important for us because after this game it's clear that we have to work together always -- without the ball and with the ball -- because if we think that we can't work together when we don't have the ball, it's not possible for us. It's not possible, and we risk to repeat a bad season. Today, I think we weren't a team in defensive situations. It's important because in the last game, I appreciated a lot our defensive situation and I told also that we can improve when we have the ball. Today, [we were] better with the ball, but bad without the ball."

It's the first time Conte has let any sort of negativity creep into his public comments, but Chelsea's first half performance certainly warrants a warning and loud wake-up call.  The team did improve in the second half, though Real also brought on all their Academy kids for the last 30 minutes, which does take some of the shine off Chelsea's two goals.

"My experience in my career as a player and a manager teach me if you want to reach a good target, if you want to fight for the title, you must be a team. You must be a team inside and outside of the pitch. It's very important and it's important to understand this and transfer this thought on the players because we must become like a family. And I think this is the key to switch, compared to last season. If we understand this, we can switch. If we don't understand this, it's not good."

-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN

If given time, I firmly believe that Antonio Conte can build something special at Chelsea, just as he did at Juventus and, to a less trophy-filled extent, with Italy.  Will he get the time?  Can he change the culture, can he get the players to buy in, commit, and execute straight away, and get Chelsea back into the top four?  It's tough to be too hopeful...

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